By this point, the phrase “Don’t forget to apply your sunscreen!” has been firmly engrained in your brain. You probably carry a little tube in your purse, and faithfully lather up before hitting the beach or spending a day roaming around the city. What you may not be aware of, however, is that your skin isn’t the only part of your body that’s susceptible to sun damage. Your hair—yes, the actual strands of hair and not your scalp—undergo some serious stress under the summer sun, too.
How The Sun Damages Your Hair
“Exposure to UV rays does two things,” said Nick Arrojo, founder of the eponymous Williamsburg salon and haircare line. “One, it breaks down the protein structure of the hair, which weakens the strength of the hair. Two, UV rays pull moisture from the cuticle, which roughens up the hair, making it look dry, coarse, and frizzy.”
So that extra crunchy texture that's worsened over these past couple months? Not a figment of your imagination! Your hair is genuinely damaged. Arrojo added that in addition to feeling more straw-like and frizzier, lightened or faded hair is another sign of sun damage.
“The pigments of the hair do filter away some of the damage of UV. This is especially true of dark hair, which is able to filter UV damage better than lighter hair,” he said. “It is this filtering which causes hair to lighten through continued sun exposure. Some people like this, some don’t!”
Not too surprisingly, color-treated hair is more prone to sun damage than virgin hair. “The shaft of the hair is already open through coloring and bleaching, so UV rays enter the hair deeper and will dry it out more quickly,” noted Felix Fischer, a celebrity stylist whose clients include Ashley Graham, Kate Winslet and Marisa Tomei. He noted that virgin hair is not sun-proof, but is just healthier to begin with and therefore takes longer for the sun to penetrate and damage the shaft.
Prevention & Treatment
Fret not! You’ve got options when it comes to shielding your hair from the sun’s powerful rays, and should you be dealing with a case of crunchy, brittle strands, you can restore your hair to its former shiny self. Here's how:
Use products with UV protection: “The most important thing you can do to protect your hair from the sun is to use a color-expanding or anti-breakage shampoo that contains UV protection,” said Fischer. Typically, the product will state “UV protection” somewhere on either the label or the description, but it’s not always obvious. The sun-shielding ingredients you can look for on the ingredient list include Benzophenone-4 (or benzadine), Ethylhexyl Methoxycinnamate, and Polyquaternium-59. You can also seek hair products that contain vitamins A, C and E, which are naturally protective, as well. Some excellent options include Aveda Sun Care Protective Hair Veil, CHI Rose Hip Oil Color Nurture Dry UV Protecting Oil, Living Proof Restore Instant Protection Spray, which can be applied to dry hair before heading out the door.
Cool it with the heat styling: It’s not the most fun advice to hear, but hair that’s already struggling needs a break from heat styling. Air dry as much as possible, enjoy your natural texture, and when you do heat style, make sure you’re using protection. IGK Car Service Blowout Balm, Oribe Straight Away Smoothing Blowout Creme, and Arrojo Protective Thickening Lotion are all heat protectants with added UV protection.
Condition liberally and without apology: “Contrary to what many people believe, regular use of conditioner is essential. It does not make hair limp, but rather will keep it hydrated, strong, and healthy,” said stylist Valery Joseph, who’s been handling celebrity hair for the past 16 years. If you’re spending a day at the beach or pool, he suggested applying a mask to your hair and braiding it before hopping in the water. “The mask will absorb into the hair shaft, will provide protection, and keep hair hydrated even in harsh conditions,” he explained. Afterward, wash your hair to get all the chlorine or salt water out immediately to keep it from getting dry, damaged, and brittle. Joseph also suggested scheduling “an in-salon conditioning treatment at least once per week to give your hair a boost in hydration.”
Wear a headscarf or hat: Finally, throw on a hat or headscarf whenever playing in the sun. It makes for a great accessory, keeps hair healthy, and can also prevent your scalp from burning!
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